Vodka and Choke

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Vodka and Choke

 

 

Karen Hardcastle loved Crete. She loved the heat, the people, the hotel they visited every year, and she loved Rethymnon.

She didn’t love her life and she most definitely didn’t love her husband, but that was the price she paid for her two weeks in the sun, by a pool.

The lottery win of eight years earlier had been immediately commandeered by Jimmy, with him saying the £138,000 would give them holidays for the rest of their lives. She never saw a penny of it.

The clothes she had bought from the charity shop for that first holiday, she kept carefully washed and pressed. By judicious use of her housekeeping money, she had managed to add a couple of tops, or a pair of shorts each year, and he hadn’t queried their appearance – so far.

He never spoke of how much was left of the money; he always booked them on an all-inclusive board basis to ensure they didn’t need spending money. The €200 he bought every year from Sainsbury’s almost always went back into the bank in its entirety.

Jimmy, she knew, loved his two weeks in the sun. His miserable attitude that pervaded him for the other fifty weeks a year was non-existent for that fortnight, as the notion of a free bar for fourteen days settled over and surrounded him.

She lay on the pool-side lounger and closed her eyes. Jimmy was to her left, the small coffee table and the umbrella pole between them.

‘You want the umbrella up or down?’ he queried.

Still with her eyes closed, she replied, ‘Oh, leave it down for a bit. I’ll work on my tan today.’

He nodded and leaned back on his lounger. He liked this time of year, early June; it meant there was no frantic early morning scramble to claim the loungers, and very few children about. The temperature was perfect… he closed his eyes and let the mid-morning heat wash over him.

‘What time is it?’

Karen sighed, opened her eyes, and sat up slightly so that she could see the poolside clock. It occurred to her that Jimmy could have done the same, but she didn’t mention that.

‘Almost ten o’clock.’ Why the fuck couldn’t you have looked at the clock?

‘Fancy a drink?’

Inwardly she groaned. She’d just got settled and now he wanted her to fetch drinks.

She began to sit up.

‘You wait there, I’ll go and get them,’ he said.

Her eyes flew open and she stared at him. He was already on his feet.

‘Diet Coke?’ he asked.

She nodded, still fully expecting him to tell her to go and get the drinks. He headed towards the bar and her eyes followed him.

This was their fourth day at the hotel, the fourth day of sitting around the pool, and he had never once been to get their drinks. His “standing order” drink of vodka and Coke in the evening, saw him collect their first drinks of the night, but she was expected to go and collect any subsequent ones from the bar, as he became progressively more drunk. And Gorgio had been on duty for the duration of each evening, so far.

Gorgio, with the smiley brown eyes, the dimple in his cheek when he laughed; they knew several long-term members of the staff, but Gorgio was a newcomer.

Last night she had positioned herself at their table, so she could see his area of the bar at all times, and it had made the evening bearable.

Jimmy returned carrying two diet Cokes in plastic glasses, and placed one on her side of the table, before taking a sip of his own drink.

He put down the plastic tumbler, took off his t shirt and announced he was going for a swim. Karen watched him walk to the shallow end of the pool, and quickly took a sip of his drink. She couldn’t smell the vodka, couldn’t see any difference between the two drinks, but she could certainly taste the vodka.

She felt cold, despite the heat of the sun. If he was drinking at 10am, it was going to be a very long day. She replaced his drink and watched as he went backwards – very carefully - down the steps into the pool. He had never been able to swim and always stayed in the shallow end. To him, the pool was a place to be used to cool down, not a place for fun and exercise.

He climbed out ten minutes later and returned to his lounger, sitting with his back to his wife.

‘Sun cream,’ he said, and Karen sat up and oiled his back. In her head she was using acid, and doing it with a pan scrubber.

He sipped intermittently at his drink until there was only a small amount left in the bottom.

‘I’ll fetch us another Coke,’ he said, and ambled over towards the bar.

By lunchtime, he had consumed four ‘Diet Cokes’ to her two. They went into lunch and she noticed the slight stagger as he went through the door. He laughed and explained it away by saying the change from the bright sunlight to the gloom of the restaurant interior, had thrown him off balance.

Karen almost laughed aloud when he ordered water to have with their meal. They filled their plates at the buffet servers, and retook their seats. Neither spoke.

Half an hour later, Jimmy stood.

‘Ready?’

She shook her head.

‘No, I’m going to have a coffee. You go back to the loungers, I’ll only be fifteen minutes or so.’

Jimmy hesitated, nodded, and walked away. She followed his progress and watched as he caught his foot on the back of the wooden sun lounger. She hoped it hurt.

She turned her back on him, smiled at the young waitress, and ordered a coffee. She managed to stretch it to half an hour before leaving to return to Jimmy.

Her diet Coke was waiting for her. Jimmy’s drink was almost gone. He was fast asleep.

Karen slipped off the floaty cover-up she had put on to go for lunch – another charity shop buy – and went in the pool. Swimming lazily from one end to the other, she began to think. That brief half hour without him had been wonderful. He normally never left her on her own, and she had thought for a couple of seconds that he was going to order her to go with him. She could only assume that he had realised he could sneak in a quick vodka and Coke while she was enjoying her coffee.

Karen climbed out of the pool and walked up to the bar.

‘A diet Coke, please,’ she said, and Gorgio handed it to her with a smile.

‘And one for your husband?’ he asked, in heavily accented English.

‘No,’ she said. ‘He’s asleep. I thought I’d sit over here for a while.’

She carried the drink to a table, where she could see both Jimmy in the distance, and Gorgio much closer. She watched the barman as he served drinks, always with a smile, and with the occasional wink in her direction. She didn’t move until, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jimmy try to sit up.

She had been momentarily distracted by a poor swimmer out of his depth in the deep end, and in panic as he realised he couldn’t feel the bottom of the pool. As a result, she hadn’t seen Jimmy waking.

He watched her walk every step of the way as she hurried back towards him.

‘And where the fuck have you been?’ he growled.

‘Swimming,’ she replied, ‘as you can see.’ She indicated her bikini.

The grumpy, aggressive stage was starting to kick in. He hadn’t been like this for a long time – as he had grown older he had changed and had tended to veer towards silence as the alcohol took hold.

He had gone beyond the silence stage, and Karen was afraid; afraid that his jealousy would overtake every other thought, if any of the men around the pool dared to look at her. She feared the consequences of that.

‘Put some clothes on,’ he said. His speech was slurred, and he was clearly well over any normal limits. She slipped on her cover-up and lay back down beside him. For two hours he didn’t move, or speak, and then suddenly he sat up.

‘I’m going for a shower,’ he announced.

‘Okay,’ she said.

‘So?’

Karen looked at him. His belligerence was shining out of him.

‘You need me to come up with you?’ she asked.

He stared at her for a moment.

‘Oh, please your fucking self,’ he responded, picked up his towel, drained the last dregs of his “Diet Coke”, and walked away from her.

Karen knew it was the end. She couldn’t live like this, afraid to breathe without Jimmy gave her permission. This would be their last holiday together out of the lottery winnings, and with divorce she would finally see some of that money.

She slipped off her cover-up and went back into the pool.

Gorgio’s eyes never left her, and he hoped her husband wasn’t too drunk. It didn’t take a genius to recognise it would be a problem for her. He watched her as she slid smoothly into the pool at the 1.20 metres end and then swam effortlessly towards the 2.20 metres end, before climbing out, gathering up her belongings and heading for their room.

Jimmy was sitting on the stool in front of the dressing table, dressed in smart shorts and a white t shirt. He looked good, and inwardly she sighed.

He turned to her. ‘Sorry, babe, for being nasty.’

She gave a tentative smile. Uneasy. Had the shower sobered him?

‘I’m going to lie down for a couple of hours,’ he said. ‘Wake me around seven, will you, and we’ll go for our meal? Then we’ll make a night of it.’

A night of it. A euphemism for falling down drunk.

She nodded and went into the bathroom. By the time she came out, he had fallen asleep and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Karen went out to sit on the balcony; she spent some time reading and some time staring into space, thinking things through, making decisions. Cheryl would give her a bed until she could get her divorce settlement. That’s what sisters were for – support when all else had failed. She would just have to put up with Cheryl’s “I told you so”s; her sister had seen what Jimmy was like from day one. Tight-arsed prick had been one phrase she had employed.

Jimmy was still unsteady when she woke him, but he was reasonably inoffensive towards her. They ate their meal, and by eight o’clock were seated at their usual table in the poolside bar area.

‘Shall I get the drinks?’ she said.

‘Mine’s vodka and Coke,’ he responded.

Gorgio walked the length of the bar to serve her.

‘Two glasses,’ Karen said. ‘Double vodka in one, single shot in the other. And a can of Coke. I’ll pour that in.’

He followed her instructions and handed them to her.

‘You are okay?’ he queried, his voice soft.

She nodded. ‘I will be.’

She carried the drinks back to Jimmy, and divided the can of Coke between the two glasses. She matched his consumption, sip for sip.

She volunteered to go up for the second round, but poured her own single vodka into Jimmy’s glass. Then she divided the can of Coke while still at the bar. She was smiling as she carried them back to her husband.

The pool bar closed every night at 11pm, but was usually empty much earlier than that. By closing time, Jimmy, totally legless, and Karen, totally sober, were the only ones left, keeping Gorgio from closing everything down for the night.

He walked across to the table where Karen was trying to get Jimmy to move.

‘We are closed now, sir,’ he said.

‘Fuck off,’ said Jimmy.

Karen stared at her husband. ‘You coming, Jimmy?’

‘Fuck off,’ said Jimmy.

‘Okay,’ responded Karen.

She walked away and didn’t look back, leaving Gorgio to switch off the bar lights.

Jimmy tried to stand. Twenty measures of cheap brand vodka said it wouldn’t be easy. He rolled down the steps that connected the pool bar to the pool area.

‘Karen!’ he yelled. ‘’Where the fuck are you, now? Bitch!’

There was silence. He staggered along the edge of the pool, occasionally dropping to the ground and holding on to a sun lounger. He reached the end of the pool area, and the last lounger in the row of twenty loungers, moved. It hit his legs with an audible thud, and he went into the pool head first.

Karen crawled away until she felt it was safe to stand, unseen. She ran to their room. It was now in the hands of the Gods, Greek Gods.

Gorgio paused and stared at the distant deep end of the pool, then turned and walked inside the hotel. His shift was over.

Karen brushed her teeth and put on her nightie. She switched on the air-con and climbed into bed. She heard no sirens, no shouting, and eventually sleep claimed her.

The poolside cleaning staff found him. Gorgio confirmed just how drunk he had been, and that Karen had gone to their room ten minutes before Jimmy had been able to move from his table.

One Greek God, Dionysus, had delivered in full.

---

With Karen’s arrangements made to fly back to England, to return to the home she had shared with Jimmy, she went to say goodbye to Gorgio.

He kissed her cheek. ‘Safe journey, Karen, and I’m sorry for what happened.’

‘Thank you,’ she responded quietly, in the grieving widow voice she had perfected over the past week. ‘I’ll be glad to get back to England.’

He looked into her eyes. The dimple showed up as he smiled. ‘Be careful as you walk past the pool, Karen. Sometimes, the loungers move on their own. Have a happier life, sweet Karen.’

Her smile was genuine. ‘Oh, I will, believe me.’

She never went back to Crete, and she never again drank vodka and Coke. There was more than enough money left for the odd bottle of Champagne, though.

 

 

 

Anita Waller

2, Rainbow Close

Sheffield

United Kingdom

S12 4AY

 

 


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